The PIE: Why are teachers still important as technology changes the classroom?
“I think there’ll always be people wanting to come to go to another country to get that language experience”
Kate Raynes-Goldie: We usually talk about how we’re replacing teachers with technology, and that’s probably not what we want to be doing. The more that we move into that space, then the more important it is to have those human skills and have teachers that are teaching those skills.
I think it’s very hard to learn human skills from a computer and it’s hard to have a computer care about you and encourage you and have empathy. Yes, we can put a whole bunch of stuff online and use technology to help in the classroom but not in replacing teachers.
The PIE: Do you think computers will start to replicate those human skills?
KRG: When I was going through school, I couldn’t study games or the internet because that just wasn’t a thing. I ended up doing my undergraduate in philosophy, and when I tell people that they think ‘well that’s the most useless degree you could possibly have’. I’ve found that the opposite is true. The reason I did it is that it teaches argument, discernment, critical thinking and writing. All of these soft skills now that we’re saying we need.
It’s served me incredibly well and when those game courses or internet studies courses became available to me, having that background was incredibly useful. You can apply that to anything.
The PIE: Schools are often very keen to incorporate the latest technology into the classroom. Are there downsides to that?
KRG: I was just in Wellington and visited a primary school. They have had a computer lab; they’ve now taken that out and replaced it with a maker’s space, and they’ve banned laptops and iPads.
They have unstructured play in the morning because they found that kids, because they’re spending all this time on screens, didn’t know how to play anymore, which is a crazy notion. They’re even getting rid of plastic in the school and replacing it with all sorts of tactile, analogue, wooden stuff. It’s almost seeing there’s too much technology and moving away from that.
“We usually talk about how we’re replacing teachers with technology, and that’s probably not what we want to be doing”
I’ve been asked: ‘we’ve bought this amazing interactive table, and we don’t have any content for it, so can you come and do that for us?’ Well, why’d you buy the table to begin with – you obviously didn’t need it? It’s not solving a problem; it’s not creating a solution. It’s like we’re getting technology for technology’s sake.
The PIE: How do those soft skills play into future careers?
KRG: There’s a really great website called willrobotstakemyjob.com, and if you put in computer programmer, it’s a 50% chance of being automated, and we’re all obsessed with teaching kids to code right now!
If you look at software engineer, they have 4% and the reason why is they combine the coding with the people skills. The ability to go and talk to the client and talk to people and make an assessment of what the requirements of the software are. It’s those human skills that are more important.
The PIE: How do you see industries like education transition as technology helps us do things better?
KRG: From my own experience trying to learn a second language, French, I think VR would be very useful for being able to be removed from yourself and have a critical distance. You can wear a metaphorical mask and feel like you can play and fail more and speak a language that you’re not used to and feel more comfortable doing that.
But there’s still value in immersing in that language. I learnt French in high school and would never speak it outside the classroom. The moment for me where I felt like I could speak French was when I decided for one summer to go and be in rural Quebec where there’s no English spoken. You have to speak French otherwise you’re not going to get your food, you can’t do anything. That was where that moment happened to me where I was able to take what I’d learnt for years and years and speak French.
I think it’s not just having the lessons, which you could do in VR remotely, but I still think there’s value in going and being immersed in a place.
“[With VR] you can wear a metaphorical mask and feel like you can play and fail more”
The PIE: What about entirely online courses?
KRG: I have a lot of online students that I teach – not for language – who won’t come to university and they’ll just study online. That’s a very different experience than taking a full degree and studying on campus fulltime.
But there are reasons for that. The online students are doing it because they have other responsibilities, or they have kids, or they’re transitioning careers from one to another. I think there’ll always be people wanting to come to Australia or wanting to go to another country to get that language experience, but it does open up that possibility for people in different situations to do the VR.
The PIE: What role can VR play outside of language?
KRG: There is a company called Sentient Computing that does training for the resource sector in Western Australia. Basically, they go into a worksite and reproduce the worksite in VR. You have a copy of that in VR, and you could go and do the dangerous thing and train.
“I have a lot of online students that I teach who won’t come to university and they’ll just study online”
What they found was that there was more power in not just having the staff or the employees having that solitary training experience, but actually having the instructor jump in and out of VR. So, having the VR equipment with the instructor with a whole bunch of people watching them; more like a classroom model.
There’s a screen that allows you to see a window into VR, so the instructor puts on the headset and they show how to do this procedure working at heights in a safe way, and the students can have a go and try it themselves. You get this real connection between theory and practice that you wouldn’t get from just regular classroom instruction.
The PIE: How do you think technology will play out in the classroom in the short term.
KRG: Technology doesn’t just get adopted. There are all these other reasons how and why it gets adopted. I don’t feel like VR is going to be a thing that is really super common as much as we think it could be. We’re not even really teaching VR in school and university yet. I think it will start to happen, but I think it’ll be slower and faster than we think.
Kind of like driverless cars. It kind of happened without us realising and took a long time, but it’s here. It’s slow and fast at the same time.